Airguns, where to hunt?
Many who are new to the sport of Airguns may eventually want to get started in hunting with them. Getting started in hunting may be discouraging with the thought of having to get a hunting license and simply finding a place to legally hunt. I will use the State of California as an example as this is where I have the majority of my hunting experience. Today with the larger selection of Airguns it’s possible to hunt a wider variety of animals. As a new hunter it’s very important to take a Hunter Safety Course that goes over the basic laws, safety and ethics of hunting. Several ways of going about getting a Hunter Safety, but the easiest way would be to take part of it online followed by a 4 hour follow up class. After both the online and follow up class is successfully completed we are able to buy our license that is good for a year before having to renew it. This license is to be carried with us at all times during any type of hunting situation and is strongly enforced by both the Game Warden and local law enforcement.
After you have gotten your hunting license now what? Well, what are you interested in hunting is a first step. California has a good amount of small game that we are legally able to take with an Airgun. Subsection 311(f) identifies small game Airgun hunting legal in California. It allows any caliber of pellet to be used for hunting small game, with the exception that one must use a caliber of at least 0.177 when hunting wild turkey. If turkey hunting is your goal, make sure the air gun you use is 0.177 caliber at a minimum. Those who want to go hunting with Airguns are allowed to take non-game species, such as pigeons, starlings, coyote, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits(All Year). Those interested in California small game or non-game hunting should check for additional regulations regarding allowed hunting times and locations, as the rules varies by species hunted.
After you have decided what your able to hunt you obviously need to find an area to legally hunt. Some of us that have been doing this for years have whats called a “Permission” private land that the owner has given us permission to hunt on. These are not always easy to get but with work can be quite rewarding for both the hunter and landowner. The next option is hunting on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The State of California hunting regulations must be followed on Federal Lands. All hunting in California is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Game. You must have a valid hunting license. It is your responsibility to know all laws and regulations related to the use of firearms in California. Are there areas on public lands which are closed to legal hunting? Yes. You may not hunt near BLM campgrounds or within Off-Highway Vehicle areas. Hunting maps are available from the California Fish and Game and from sporting goods stores and gun shops. Where can I get topographic maps? Topographic maps are for sale from engineering firms and sporting goods stores. You can also order on-line from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Does BLM have other maps for sale? Yes. The BLM maps, known as “Access Guides” are for sale in the California District office and they sell for $4.00 each, show public and private land ownership, and are at a scale of one-half inch to the mile. Can I drive anywhere I care to on public lands when I am hunting? No. Vehicles are restricted to designated routes of travel as posted and as shown on BLM maps. Vehicles are prohibited in all wilderness areas. Cross-country travel is permitted only in the off-highway vehicle areas. Target Shooting is allowed on public lands, unless posted “No Shooting”. County shooting ordinances and codes must be followed on Federal Lands. In addition, you must provide your own targets and remove your debris and targets when you leave. Several phone “apps” can be bought online and in many cases are the easiest to use as they are essentially Google Map overlays.
- When in doubt about an area check with local sheriff or land management agencies before using an area for shooting. Do not shoot on private land without the owner’s written permission.
- Find a safe backdrop to shoot into. Shots fired across open desert can travel up to two miles or more in distance.
- Shoot only retrievable, freestanding targets. It is illegal to shoot trees, bottles, or other objects. Take all used targets with you.
- Do not shoot within 150 yards of any man-made object, camp, domestic livestock, or occupied dwelling.
- Play safe and use caution. Shooting has a great risk for injuring people at great distances.
- Many of these areas are closed to target shooting during fire season excluding hunting.
With so many Airguns available now it’s sometimes difficult to choose a gun that’s right for the situation. Years ago we really only had three or four calibers to choose from such as .177,.20,.22 and .25 that was considered big. Today we have many types of piston guns and powerful PCP’s that now include Big Bore calibers up to .45 and .50. The PCP guns have really taken off and are available to just about anyone, even on a budget.
If we are hunting small game animals it narrows the field of whats needed to ethically kill but a few things need to be understood. When hunting with Airguns we are dealing with projectiles that are for the most part subsonic and lose fpe (Foot Pounds of Energy) very quickly. When hunting with an Airgun such as a .177 we are dealing with primarily a short range caliber as this fpe is lost very quickly the further the pellet travels from the muzzle. Most all Airguns give best accuracy at subsonic speeds so lets just set the examples given to 900 fps “feet per second” A smaller caliber can sometimes provide good accuracy at longer range but may not hold its energy well enough out past 60 yards to make an ethical kill. Many factors can effect fpe in any given caliber such as weight, speed etc, the goal is to find a pellet that shoots most accurately out of your gun. I use a .30 PCP rifle that produces 85 fpe at the muzzle and its pellet can hold that energy very well out past 100 yards. I choose this caliber due to the wide range of species I can use it for as well as being better suited to hold true in the wind at longer ranges than a smaller caliber. Again, we have larger “slug” shooting guns but these are true Big Bores and are beyond necessity for small game application besides possibly Coyote’s. The best thing a new hunter can do is to practice, getting familiar with how the gun shoots along with learning holdover and hold-under techniques at various ranges. Targets set at various ranges are always a good way of learning where to aim in different situations and familiarity with judging distances. Another great way of practice is using plastic spoons set up at various distances, this is a very cheap way to improve marksmanship and is very similar in size to a small animals kill-zone.
When we are familiar with how our gun is working it may be time to put together a “kit” that we will venture to the field with. This kit may change between the animals we are hunting, seasons and the length of time we are hunting for. This is just a basic list of items I carry and it may lengthen depending on the hunt.
- Food, snacks, water etc,
- Tools for doing simple repairs or adjustments in the field
- Extra pellets, magazines
- Shooting sticks or Bi-pod if desired
- Map of area being hunted
- Hunting License
- Extra Air (Buddy Bottle) if applicable
(Note) Always good to let someone know where you are and to dress accordingly with changing weather conditions.
Hunting with an Airgun can be a very rewarding experience and offers the hunter a challenge that sometimes cannot be found with a traditional firearm. One of the keys to being a successful Airgun hunter is shot placement and the ability to get closer to the animals we are hunting. Learning to get closer to the animals we are hunting takes skill, patience and the willingness to learn from mistakes.
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Great article Dana!
For those who are dissuaded by the time required to take a hunter safety class, don’t be. Even long time hunters and sportsmen will find the variety of subjects taught useful and interesting. Also, many time these classes are taught by very experienced hunters who have colorful personalities and great hunting experiences to share. Even if you don’t plan to hunt, a Hunter Safety class is time well spent.
Thank god destroying the environment with littering, dumping and shot out junk is now taboo. Hunters aren’t always seen as defenders of the environment but in reality few “Activist” spend as much time as we do in the field and see the things that actually do damage as clearly as we do. I like to take to take some time to police the areas I hunt even if it means carrying out someone else’s trash for miles.
The thrill of the hunt is only part of the overall outdoor experience. Getting out with our gun is just an added dimension to an great backcountry trip.